Have You Played… Grand Theft Auto V?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.

I haven’t played Grand Theft Auto V since just a few months after its release, but parts of its city are still as clear in my memory as some of the real cities I’ve lived in.

I like the streets around Michael’s house, from which you can quickly reach downtown San Andreas or nip up into the hills towards where Franklin comes to live. I like the Santa Monica-style beachfront, where Michael’s therapist’s office is. I like the big park with the nice pond, and the long ocean road that leads to the tunnel, and a dozen other little mundane areas.

This is true of every 3D Grand Theft Auto game, for me. I don’t care about nor finish the story and I can barely stand the characters, but as places they’re first rate. Red Dead Redemption 2 doesn’t excite me nearly as much, either, because it’s cities I’m interested in. Horses are fine, but deserts and canyons are to be travelled across, not lived in.


  1. Risingson says:

    Graham, for ONE western game that we have and you are going to moan “naah I prefer cities”? :<

    • poliovaccine says:

      We have Fallout New Vegas, that’s a whole *two* western games! Though if you’re talking PC, uh, still just one. And it doesn’t even have horses.

      But I remember seeing people complain about New Vegas being in the desert, because “there’s nothing in the desert,” and “the desert is boring,” and that popular assertion just blew my mind, because in my own brief, fleeting experience with deserts I have been absolutely overawed by them, by their alienness and their bizarre, subsurface ecosystems which only become visible with patience and observation, but which slowly transform a still, empty landscape of mystical vastness into one teeming with furtive, hidden life the more you happen to notice and see. Between the punishing conditions and the necessarily unique, highly-specialized adaptations of the strange things that can thrive there, the desert seems like an *awesome* setting for a fucking post-apocalypse game, or any kind of story really. So the idea that people preferred the claustrophobic, identical subways of Fallout 3 to the pseudo-Martian majesty of New Vegas was just not what I expected to see.

      The desert and the ocean are about the only natural landscapes which have ever blown me away, in person, more than human cities (though to be fair I’ve still never seen the Amazon). A coral reef and a desert both give NYC a run for its money, and I still don’t quite get where that popular sentiment, against deserts being interesting, actually comes from. I mean, I get that they are vast and “empty,” but since when is that boring about the ocean, or about space? If anything, the desert seems as close to an alien planet as we’re liable to get on planet earth!

      Also, peyote is *not* “nothing,” haha.

      • sonofsanta says:

        Y’all gonna forget Call of Juarez, huh?

        • Kollega says:

          Gun is a thing that exists, too.

          • Risingson says:

            Yeah, those two with a LONG gap. I actually like the Call of Juarez: Gunslinger take on spaghetti western quite a lot, but it is a stylish shooter, not the rpg/adventure we need.

      • Risingson says:

        I already said that so many times in the comment section, and once again I will say it: I prefer the western tropes in Fallout 3 rather than the very explicit ones in Fallout New Vegas, basically because Fallout 3 is a take on David Brin’s “The Postman” and the Kevin Costner adaptation, and Kevin Costner is, to me, the guy that currently understand the classic Mann/Aldrich/Daves/LeToth/Wellman/Stevens westerns the best. And there is a lot of that in Fallout 3, from helping a caravan to survive to just helping the pioneers to make a living in a very rough territory.

        FNV is way better designed and the moral choices are a bit on the cynical side (something, btw, that I don’t like at all), but even when you use the guitars that does not make your thing a western. It’s like what Whedon did in Firefly, which is like copying a copy of a copy of Star Wars and saying that it is an homage to Flash Gordon.

      • Universal Quitter says:

        I probably love New Vegas more than the next guy, but calling it a western, in the same way the RDR and spaghetti westerns are westerns, is kind of silly. You might as well call FO4 an American revolutionary war game because it’s in Boston and has some stuff about minutemen and AI rights.

        It doesn’t scratch the same kind of itch, at all.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      Let’s not forget that GTAV also had a huge desert/wilderness area, which was full of Western tropes and Cormac McCarthy type scenery. For my part I’d like to play a western that capitalises on the wilderness survival side of the genre. A Lonesome Dove game would be just grand.

    • funky_mollusk says:

      Westerado, West of Loathing…

      • funky_mollusk says:

        Also: ‘post-apocalyptic’ and ‘Western’ are not even at all the same genre.

  2. Troubletcat says:

    I mean I dunno, it feels like a dire failure to understand what rockstar are trying to do. The place is everything. The story and characters matter, but only to the extent that they serve the place…

    Many of my best gaming memories are from GTA. I always completed the stories but also I’d walk slowly around everywhere and take the train to avoid stealing cars. Niko wouldn’t kill lots of people he didn’t have to, and neither would Franklin or CJ or even Vercetti. Trevor is a tip of the hat to how rockstar knows a lot of people play but… I mean the real game was always in actual immersing yourself in the world and the characters.

    The callousness of the jokes isn’t funny if you’re an active participant, but you never had to be – you could always choose to drive the car you actually bought to the mission point and then take the train or walk home if it exploded. You were forced into violent circumstance during the story missions, but it was always kind of a comedy of errors – “I was just trying to live my life and do my thing and now wacky happenstance has resulted in a ridiculous murderspree.” But outside of missions you could always choose.

    RDR didn’t suffer from this nearly so much and it’s why it’s maybe the best Rockstar game, and you should be more excited. During the timespan that you played as him, John Marsden was a man trying to do his level best to be a good person, but he had a past that wouldn’t let up…

    I dunno. Just… maybe don’t choose to be an absolute madman when the game isn’t requiring you to. And it rarely requires it.

    • laiwm says:

      It feels like a dire failure to understand what rockstar are trying to do
      Not sure what part of the article you’re addressing here, but I would have preferred it if Rockstar hadn’t been so pushy with what they were trying to do – they made a beautifully realised open world with all kinds of interesting systems in it, and then paste a faux-mature, inconsistent story over the top that keeps getting in the way.
      I’d spend ages picking out a nice outfit and customising a car for Franklin, then the next time I loaded the game he’d be hanging around some boring part of the city with his default outfit and motorbike, just so that Rockstar could show me a “Franklin has girlfriend problems” cutscene again. I’d love to see them do a game that prizes player agency and lets systems drive the story so I don’t have to sit through daft torture cutscene-missions to get to the good stuff.

    • Dingbatwhirr says:

      That’s a really good point about always having the choice not to succumb to the extreme violence that the game always offers. I think it’s one of the reasons I bounced off GTA IV. I liked the character of Niko a lot – he seemed like he was trying to do the right thing. I was expecting a slow descent into immorality for him, but it never seemed justified. So I never stole a car, didn’t buy many new weapons, tried to obey the law. But that wasn’t very interesting – it’s a fiddle to get a taxi home every time because the game made your car disappear. And then the missions themselves started to seem increasingly incongruous, as, in the cutscenes, Niko started to turn into the violent psychopath that I was deliberately trying to avoid him being. Eventually I just stopped playing. I really didn’t want to go down that route, and outside of missions I was managing it, but I realised I wasn’t having much fun any more, and the cutscenes weren’t reflecting my choices. So I chose to quit.

      I had similar with GTA V and the torture missions. I just didn’t want to do them, made myself, then felt so bad that I just stopped playing the singleplayer. I play multiplayer still, but haven’t touched the singleplayer in ages.

      I agree with you about Red Dead – it’s a fantastic game – but I also see Graham’s point. The environments are pretty, but I don’t find them very interesting to explore in the same way that I like mooching round a city.

      • Universal Quitter says:

        “The environments are pretty, but I don’t find them very interesting to explore in the same way that I like mooching round a city.”

        I’m hoping they learn enough from a certain 2017 Nintendo game to change that. RDR’s environments were pretty, but they definitely lacked interesting gameplay interactions, especially once you’d seen every randomized mini-mission, done every side quest, or played through the whole story.

    • April March says:

      I mean I dunno, it feels like a dire failure to understand what rockstar are trying to do. The place is everything. The story and characters matter, but only to the extent that they serve the place…

      I agree, but I feel Rockstar themselves are guilty of this dire failure.

  3. J Arcane says:

    I haven’t played a GTA game since San Andreas, and I never played it “straight. I would just download a completed save off GameFAQs and run around exploring, finding secrets, jumping off stuff in cars, etc.

    Can you do that in GTA V or is it all locked down to some R* Club thing for “game balance”?

    • laiwm says:

      I’m fairly sure you can download a 100% save from a mod site – definitely the best way to experience the game. It’s not so essential as in earlier titles as it doesn’t lock areas of the map behind story missions, but IIRC there are some properties like the airfield you can’t buy/use fully until you’ve passed certain bits of the story.

  4. fuggles says:

    I’m boycotting this and destiny until either makes a sequel to Oni.

  5. Darth Gangrel says:

    No, never, which some might say constitutes a criminal offense. That is fitting, given the nature of the gameplay in this franchise.

  6. Megatron says:

    Nope. I haven’t played this yet. I’d sworn off the GTA series after 4 which I considered a serious mis-step by Rockstar, and I think I was getting tired of the whole shebang anyway.

    Buuuuuut. Time seems to be reversing some of that feeling. I’ve been toying with the idea of jumping into a GTA game one last time, probably inspired by some of the articles I keep reading about the game’s sense of place and incredible attention to detail; I’m a sucker for well-simulated systems.

    Perhaps if it comes past me in this year’s Steam sale I’ll finally bite.

    • Cyrus says:

      I’m with you here, haven’t played it either and had basically written off GTA. But I can change my mind.
      However, since it has yet to have a reasonable price it’ll will take time.

      Can’t get over the fact Red Dead never came to PC, so meaning I’m more or less boycotting R*

    • Universal Quitter says:

      Wait for a non-numbered release. Ballad of Gay Tony, San Andreas, and Vice City are fan favorites for a reason.

  7. fish99 says:

    *minor spoilers* I do think letting you pick your own ending was a cop-out, plus the final mission borrowed from the ending of The Godfather. The story kinda lost momentum in the middle too. It’s telling that I haven’t finished a second playthrough yet, but I’ve finished GTAIV about 6 times.

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      phuzz says:

      I had to go and check that there were multiple endings, I’d just never even considered killing either Trevor or Michael, and instead went for the grand “lets kill all our enemies in one massive battle”, because it’s GTA, what else are you going to do?
      I’d just assumed that if you tried to pick either of the other two endings that you’d be shunted back into the big shootout anyway.

      • fish99 says:

        *spoilers* I made the same choice, but after what had come before it just felt odd for Michael and Trevor to choose to grudgingly co-exist.

  8. Laurentius says:

    Sure like all GTA games. I spent hundreds hours in GTA since Vice City and most of it is just casually driving around or walking or looking at sunsets. Great way to chill. Sure I’ve completed the story, it wasn’t bad but it is lacking in comparison to 4 or SA. The detail of the world, the perfectionism of that creation is unpararel in video game, it suprising and amazing finding all that dirttracks are perfectly fine tuned in it. Also soundtrack is ace as in all GTA games.
    It is why I’m totally not board with RDR. Driving a car is blissfully chill in GTA5, riding horses in video games? Nope, it sucks everytime also you can’t ride a horse in wild west while listening to dope song. So for all the beautiful vistas of RDR I will be alyways on GTA side.

  9. Ossian says:

    I haven’t, but I find myself becoming more inclined to pick it up the past month or so, for reasons I can’t point to. The last GTA game I played was Vice City, and that was on the last console I owned, a PS2.

    To be honest, I have messed around with V on a friends Xbox a few times when visiting. That was mostly just driving around in between random bursts of gun violence. So, basically, the way most people play the game I suppose.

    Still, I think I will pick it up sometime soon.

  10. Kollega says:

    I haven’t, and don’t plan to. Call me a philistine if you want/need to, but the “it’s California and everyone is a horrible human being” setting/storyline holds zero appeal to me. And when I look at the things I enjoy in games… I would rather jump into one of the Just Cause games, with their mad self-aware shenanigans and stupidly explosive action and landscapes that do really feel like perfect places for a vacation. Compared to that, GTA V is simply not a game for me.

    • fray_bentos says:

      Ditto. Even as a Brit who used to live in SoCal, and now living in the city that made GTAV, it has zero appeal to me (beyond the curiosity and puzzlement of me wondering why so many people rave about the game).

  11. Freud says:

    It’s on my list but if I waited so long to play it I might as well wait until it’s dirt cheap.

  12. Samudaya says:

    People keep telling me Trevor is bisexual and I’ll say he’s not more bisexual than Dumbledore is gay. If the vast majority of GTAV players have no idea what you are talking about then it’s a fail.

    • Harlander says:

      So, Trevor being bi is confirmed in an offhand kinda way by the author, then?

      • splorghley says:

        I don’t know if I’d agree with Samudaya. There’s in-game dialogue strongly implying Trevor is bi – during a main story mission, no less.

  13. April March says:

    I’ll wait until it’s under five bucks. I’ll wait decades if need be, I’m not in a hurry.

  14. MushyWaffle says:

    Played it, didn’t like. I still own it on Steam, but after 1 day I had enough. I don’t like all the driving and it really was “Ubi-like” in all the irrelevant side stuff thrown at the map. I was bored by the story and huge amount of fetch/AtoB missions.

    I tried the online… and yeah, what a chaotic non-challenging mess that was TO ME. (I know some people will get their feelings hurt).

  15. Doug Exeter says:

    Yes. Loved it. One of my favorite games of all time. Anyways, years on its tough for most people to remember what a revelation it was when it came out and still mostly holds up years later. It is literally a fully realized world and nothings come close to touching it since.

    One of my favorite things to do was just turn on the in game tv and have it playing while I did real world chores around the house. I’ve spent hours upon hours playing golf and I don’t even really like golf. It’s packed with stuff to do and Rockstars humor. Yeah it’s cynical but it mostly nails it’s satire of American urban city life right down to Silicon Valley.

    That said, I enjoyed the story and the characters but theres no denying it turns in to a complete mess about halfway through. Also, GTA online is a abomination. I hate that it’s going to be a focus from now on.

  16. malkav11 says:

    Nowhere near as much as GTA Vice City or San Andreas, but yes. The world is really incredible, especially on PC at high resolutions in first person mode. I also enjoy the writing, unlike many people, although I thought they were funnier back in those PS2-era games. But I’m not very good at the actual gameplay and so I haven’t made very much progress in the story, and ultimately that stuff is why I play games. I’d load it up more often if it weren’t for the probably minute-plus initial load time, though. I get that that loads this entire intricate world and there’s little to no loading after that, but man, that really disincentivizes me. I had the same issue with Shogun 2: Total War.

  17. Raoul Duke says:

    No, because Rockstar have kept the price so high for so long that it has never represented a reasonable value proposition for a game I think I’ll enjoy for a few hours then move on from.

  18. Liege says:

    Played 50+ hrs, formatted my Computer and forgot to copy the save game.. I think I’m done. Really can’t be bothered starting again. Whilst it was a reasonably good single player game, it is still the same old, same old that the last 3 GTA have been and I’ve played them all. I think this will be my last GTA title, I really have no urge to repeat it.

    And don’t even get me started on the stink pile money grab that is “online”. I think i might have 1hr online and that was it.

  19. CrivenS says:

    Never, I’ve never yet seen it for less than $37 US here in Aus and as that is close to $50 local it remains beyond my price point.

  20. Shinryoma says:

    No I have not. Years later and the price still has not dropped.